In 2016, Donald Trump vaulted to the head of the GOP primary field in no small part because Republicans were splitting their vote among a glut of milquetoast establishment candidates. Of course, in the coming presidential election cycle, former Vice President Mike Pence will be looking to straight-up dominate the milquetoast lane of his party, but will it be enough to break through?
Early research indicates the answer is no. While Jeb! Bush was rightly ridiculed in 2016 for begging a “rally” crowd to “please clap,” that’s infinitely more dignified than “please don’t hang me”—and judging by the conspicuous lack of enthusiasm voters appear to have for Pence, a “please clap” moment would likely be a high-water mark of his upcoming campaign. Mark my words, he’ll be opening for birthday party clowns by this time next year—assuming REO Speedwagon doesn’t call first.
A new Atlantic story by staff writer McKay Coppins about the responses focus groups are having toward a potential Pence run is a rich vein of comedy gold, and it raises the obvious question: “What in the name of Dan Quayle is this guy thinking?”
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Political consultant Sarah Longwell recently invited Coppins to sit in on a series of Zoom-facilitated focus groups about Pence, and the results couldn’t possibly have been worse for the creepily robotic VP—or better for his detractors, also know as “humans.”
Get a load of some of the responses Coppins recorded:
- “I don’t care for him … He’s just middle-of-the-road to me. If there was someone halfway better, I wouldn’t vote for him.”
- “He has alienated every Republican and Democrat. … It’s over. It’s retirement time.”
- “He’s only gonna get the vote from his family, and I’m not even sure if they like him.”
- “He just needs to go away.”
That’s just a small sampling, but for the most part the participants displayed the fervent passion of anonymous Yelp users reviewing a funeral home that used to be a Pizza Hut.
It went on and on like that across four different focus groups. Of the 34 Republicans who participated, I heard only four people say they’d consider Pence for president—and two of them immediately started talking themselves out of it after indicating interest.
Editor’s note: Bwahahahahahahahaha! (Editor’s Note: That was not an editor’s note.)
Some of the reasons for Pence’s lack of support were intuitive. Hard-core Trump fans said they’d been alienated by Pence’s refusal to block the certification of the 2020 electoral votes, as the president was demanding. This break with Trump famously prompted chants of “Hang Mike Pence!” to echo through the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
MAGA voters hate Pence because they think he betrayed Trump. Democrats hate Pence because he continually enabled Trump. So his natural constituency is everyone else—which is why he barely polls above a sprig of parsley in recent presidential surveys.
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Consider these focus group reactions from ardent Trumpies:
“I’m so mad at Pence that I would never vote for him,” said one respondent. “He would be a horrible president. … I just don’t think he has the leadership qualities to be president.”
“That’s exactly it,” a woman responded. “He didn’t have the leadership qualities to do what everyone wanted him to do on Jan. 6. He just doesn’t have that spine.”
“He just chose to go along with all the other RINOs and Democrats, not to upset the applecart,” said another.
But then there were the Trump detractors:
“The only thing I liked about him was that he actually did stand up to Donald Trump,” said one woman. “He’s too a part of Trump. I don’t think Trump has a chance, and I don’t think anybody in that inner circle has a chance either.”
“I think he put a stain on himself for any normal Republican when he joined the Trump administration,” another participant said. “And then he put a stain on himself with any Trump Republican on Jan. 6. So I don’t think he has a constituency anywhere. I don’t know if anyone would vote for him.”
Add to that Pence’s determination to monkey around with Social Security and make abortion illegal for everyone, everywhere, all at once, and it’s no wonder houseflies and carrion fowl are so excited about his campaign.
RELATED STORY: Mike Pence on CNBC: Put Social Security and Medicare 'on the table'
Of course, it’s still early—which, in this case, likely means the candidate still hasn’t hit rock bottom.
Longwell told me this is how Pence is talked about in every focus group she holds. What to make of that 6 to 7 percent he gets in the primary polls? “I imagine there’s a cohort of GOP voters who are not particularly engaged who don’t want Trump again, and Pence is the only other name they really know,” she speculated. That, or “they’re all from Indiana,” the state where Pence served as governor. A second Republican pollster, who requested anonymity to offer his candid view, told me, “Seven percent is a weak showing for the immediate former VP.”
Yes, it is pretty weak. In fact, this may be one of the few examples in recorded history where name recognition actually hurts a candidate. To know Mike Pence is to be revolted by Mike Pence—and that’s something nearly every American can unite behind. Finally!
After all, even his Freudian slips seem mealy-mouthed:
MIKE PENCE: “You know, all through the Trump-Pence years, we saw politicization of the Justice Department.”
Yes, yes, we did see that. Thank you for your candor, sir.
Perhaps focus group member “Angie” (not her real name) summed up the prevailing attitude toward Pence the best. When asked to name a candidate who perhaps shared her politics but didn’t live her values, she seemed somewhat charitable toward the ex-VP—but not enough to want to back him.
“I think Trump falls into that category,” she said. “But quite honestly, the vast majority of others do as well. I would say Pence actually doesn’t fall into that category. I would say his character probably aligns with biblical values fairly well.”
So does that mean she’d vote for Pence? Ha ha! Not a snowball’s chance in that hell Angie assumes he’s not going to.
“Anything he did got overshadowed by all the drama of these last four years,” she said, adding, “Seems like a perfectly nice man.”
Check out Aldous J. Pennyfarthing’s four-volume Trump-trashing compendium, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Or, if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.